Child custody is a legal determination that one or both parents have the decision-making power and control over the care of their child., The issue of child custody arises in cases of legal separation, divorce, and unmarried parents. Custody cases can become a tug-of-war or competition between parents in which each one wants to win. Ultimately, the goal is establishing a custody arrangement in the child’s best interest. However, a parent may do certain things that the court may view favorably for primary custody.
According to the United States Census Bureau, approximately 18 million children live with only one parent. Over 15 million kids live with only their mothers, with more than 3.5 million living with their fathers.
Oregon law states that parents have equal rights and responsibilities to their children. Perceptions exist that courts favor mothers over fathers in child custody cases. However, state law does not have a legal preference for either person as the custodial parent.
State law has two kinds of custody arrangements – joint and sole custody. In a joint custody arrangement, the parents share custody and have the legal right to decide on the child’s well-being., Even with shared custody, the child may live solely with one parent as the primary residence. One parent may also have the sole decision-making power for specific matters. However, a judge cannot order joint custody unless both parents agree.
When parents object to joint custody, the court orders a sole custody arrangement. The judge determines which parent has custody of the child. The custodial parent makes major decisions regarding the child’s education, religious affiliation and training, and health care.
One parent can have primary custody in a joint or sole custody arrangement. The primary custody can be physical, legal, or both. Primary physical custody means that the child lives with a parent all or most of the time. With primary legal custody, one parent makes the majority or significant decisions regarding the child.
Before a court can determine child custody, the law must establish who the child’s legal mother and father are. Oregon law establishes a legal mother by giving birth to or adopting a child or by a judge’s determination in a legal process. State law presumes that the person married to the mother at the time of conception or birth of the child is the legal father. For unmarried parents, the potential father must prove paternity in several ways, including:
- Filing a voluntary acknowledgment of paternity form with the state’s health statistics department or in another state
- Marriage of the parents after the child’s birth
- Genetic testing
- Through the Oregon Child Support Program
- A judge in a court case determines paternity
When married parents seek a divorce in Oregon, one of the spouses must file a petition for the dissolution of the marriage. In the divorce case, the court resolves spousal support, property distribution, child custody, child support, and parenting time. An unmarried parent who wants custody of their child can file a lawsuit for a court to name them as the custodial parent.
A married or unmarried parent who wants to win primary custody must show the court that they can provide an environment of safety and stability for their child. The court’s goal is to order a child custody arrangement in the child’s best interest. Oregon law lists factors for a judge to consider for custody, such as:
- The emotional connection between the child and family members
- The parent’s interest in the child
- The parent’s attitude toward the child
- The parents’ existing relationship with the child
- The willingness of the parents to continue the relationship between the child and the other parent
- Which parent is the primary caregiver of the child
- Abuse by one parent to the other
- The child’s wishes
The personal aspects of a parent’s life typically do not factor into custody determinations unless they cause or may cause harm to the child. The judge may look at each parent’s behavior, actions, marital status, financial status or income, and social life. Other considerations include a parent’s criminal record and home environment.
Parenting is not a competition; it should be a collaboration between parents to provide their children with the best life and upbringing. However, the best way for a parent to win primary custody is to excel in the child custody factors by:
- Having a cordial relationship and dialogue with the other parent
- Not speaking negatively about the other parent to the child
- Become or maintain financial stability
- Stay away from harmful social settings and environments
- Be careful when using social media
- Have appropriate living accommodations for the child